And thus, I suppose, it’s only fair that I also give that same school system credit when it does something very, very right.
About a year ago, the Resident Ulpanistit and her classmates participated in a three-day Encounter Seminar - i.e. Seminariyon Gesher (literally, “Bridge Seminar”) for the Hebraically-oriented amongst you – run by Gesher (literally, “Bridge”), an organization dedicated to bringing different segments of Israeli society closer together.
During these seminars, two groups of high school students – one from a secular school and one from a religious school – spend a weekend together (including Shabbat), talking about all the issues which divide and unite them.
Over the years, fewer and fewer schools participate in these seminars, and it’s not hard to understand why.
The secular schools are concerned about what they perceive as religious coercion or even brainwashing, and the religious schools are afraid of condoning and/or exposing their students to behaviors and attitudes which go against everything they believe in.
And yet, nevertheless, the Resident Ulpanistit’s school not only continues to participate in these annual seminars, but considers them to be one of the ulpanah’s flagship programs.
(Note: The seminars aren’t coed. The boys from the secular school have their own seminar with boys from a yeshiva high school.)
Of course, it’s not that this ulpanah’s administration isn’t aware of the potential risks, but they’re confident that they know their students and what they can handle.
And furthermore, when it comes to the seminars, the ulpanah has two guiding principles:
1) They prepare the girls well in advance. (In recent years, the school began having prep. sessions back in September.)
2) Throughout these prep. sessions, the teachers and the administration stress that building bridges between different segments of the population is merely a nice side benefit of the seminars.
Instead, the ulpanah uses the seminars as a wonderful tool to help the girls strengthen their own emunah (faith) by examining many of our core beliefs.
In other words, as far as the ulpanah is concerned, the goal is NOT kiruv (outreach), but rather, a means to enable the girls to explain to THEMSELVES why we believe what we do.
And it works.
Every one of the Resident Ulpanistit’s classmates had an amazing time over that memorable weekend and – by their own admission - walked away with a greater and stronger commitment to Judaism, the Torah, and religious observance.
(Not coincidentally, the secular girls told the ulpanistiyot that they too were very glad they had come on the weekend and also felt that they had gained a lot.)
So, as a parent, I’d like to extend a huge ישר כוח to the ulpanah for participating in this incredible program and also to thank them for reminding us that, notwithstanding Adar and all that it entails, there IS a reason that we pay tuition…